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In the FCS Huddle: Bagnoli has set an Ivy standard

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - The most empathy Harvard's Tim Murphy has among his Ivy League coaching brethren is reserved for Penn defensive coordinator Ray Priore.

Come Dec. 1, Priore will replace the dean of Ivy League football coaches, Al Bagnoli, who will retire after this year's 23rd season with the Quakers.

"Just a tremendous success," Murphy said of a Penn program that Bagnoli has guided to nine outright league titles and a 146-72 record (.670).

"To emulate that, I would hate to be the next guy."

Tuesday was a day to celebrate Bagnoli as the Ivy League conducted a preseason coaches conference call in conjunction with the release of a media poll that favored Princeton in the narrowest of margins to win the league title again over its fellow 2013 co-champion, Harvard. Penn was picked fourth following a rare subpar season.

Cornell's David Archer, who will be the "other" coach in Bagnoli's final game on Nov. 22, talked about how the veteran mentor made it a special point to welcome him into the head coaching fraternity last year.

Brown's Phil Estes called Bagnoli "a winner, he's a leader, he's a guy that I have the utmost respect for as a coach and how his teams play, how they (have) represented the Ivy League and what we're all about.

Columbia's Pete Mangurian, who also led Cornell's program, even joked, "I won't say I'm going to miss him" - knowing full well that he's contributed five times (in five games) to Bagnoli's 110 wins and .714 winning percentage in Ivy games, which both rank second in league history.

While the NCAA ranks continue to go through upheaval in so many ways, the Ivy League continues to find how refreshing it is to mix strong academics with athletics and develop leaders both on and off the field.

The way the 61-year-old Bagnoli has kept his program at an exemplary level reflects the greatness of his overall work. He could have moved on to coaching offers in FBS conferences like the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA, but he's loved his role of being a second father to the players in his program.

"I've been fortunate to be a part of some really, really great moments," Bagnoli said, "record-setting winning streaks and back-to-back championships and dominant teams and great kids and also to be a part of some tragedies. You had two (player) suicides we had to deal with.

"I think if you stay at any job long enough, there's always going to be a balance between the really good high moments and some of the low moments. And I think I've experienced the extremes on both ends. I feel very blessed to be part of such a great institution, dealing with some great kids like our entire league deals with. It's just been an honor to be a part of something for this long. We just hope that we can go out on a good note."

Penn slumped to 4-6 last season (3-4 Ivy) for just his second losing season on the field (the 1997 team later forfeited much of its season for use of an ineligible player) while he's become the winningest coach in the 137-year history of Quakers football.

Many times the Ivy preseason poll is wrong - in fact, Penn was the preseason choice last year after coming off the 2012 Ivy title - so the Quakers can draw motivation from their doubters. Their quarterback, sophomore Alek Torgersen, might be short on experience but not talent, there's depth at running back and wide receiver, and senior Daniel Davis is an All-American linebacker who will fuel an always physical defense that also boasts veterans Austin Taps and Feerooz Yacobi up front.

"It's hard to continually win in this league," Bagnoli said. "I think we got humbled a little bit, I think our guys are much more intuned with what we want and how to go about it, and (with a) much better worth ethic and preparation, and a much better greater excitement heading into this season."

Ironically, Penn's coach-in-waiting - Priore - has been with the Quakers longer than Bagnoli. Priore started as the assistant linebackers coach in 1987 and was kept on staff when Bagnoli arrived from Union College (where he amassed 86 wins in 10 seasons) in 1992.

Priore has contributed greatly to the Penn model that just about everybody in the Ivy League has tried to emulate in recent decades.

But late this fall, he will be the one in the unenviable position of trying to succeed someone you can call an Ivy League legend as much as you can call him Al.

"He says what he means, he means what he says, and you know that his teams are going to be a reflection of that," Murphy said of Bagnoli.

"He's been able to adapt and innovate and just keep things really fresh and keep things at a high level for so many years. And I think that's the mark of a great coach."

Princeton edged Harvard in the preseason poll by one first-place vote and one point, marking the closest poll since Harvard and Yale shared the No. 1 preseason spot in 2008. Both teams were 6-1 in Ivy games last season - Princeton won the head-to-head meeting, fittingly in triple overtime - and Princeton returns the league's 2013 offensive player of the year, Walter Payton Award finalist Quinn Epperly at quarterback, while Harvard brings back the 2013 defensive player of the year, Buck Buchanan Award finalist Zach Hodges at defensive end.

Dartmouth, which finished in third place last season, was picked third in the poll, prompting coach Buddy Tevens to say, "We're not finished."

Neither is Al Bagnoli.

IVY LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL

Media Poll

1. Princeton (9 first-place votes), 128 points

2. Harvard (8), 127

3. Dartmouth, 91

4. Penn, 79

5. Yale, 68

6. Brown, 65

7. Cornell, 34

8. Columbia, 20

08/05 16:01:22 ET